Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

lecture-smYesterday, I met with two colleagues to work on a teaching adult’s workshop.  Part of the discussion was about finding ways to change old teaching habits. For example, having a one hour class that is a one hour lecture and or PowerPoint. We’ve all been there. We’ve all tried to keep our eyes open or tried to figure out a way to check our e-mail/phone/tablet because we are bored out of our minds.

I can hear people saying, well, that wouldn’t happen in my classroom, because I am a good teacher and I know my material and it is important that they hear it. I know, it sounds good, but the truth is, it does not work! It doesn’t matter how well you know the material or how important the information is or how good you are at what you do. The human brain can only pay attention for twenty minutes. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how great you are as a teacher. It doesn’t matter how interesting the information is that you are trying to impart. The human brain simply says, ok, that’s enough. I’m done. Then, if it doesn’t have some way of using the information to get it into your long term memory, it’s going to be gone. Our brains must choose if whether to keep or discard information on a regular basis. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function.

I can also hear people saying, well, people always thank me after my lecture/presentation. They say they learned a lot. They probably did, but it won’t stay with them. They also only learned for the first twenty minutes and that’s if you grabbed their attention in the first five. Otherwise, they are likely doing something/anything else than paying attention.

If I’ve convinced you, great! If not, I’ll keep trying in future posts. I know you want to make the experience the best it can be for your audience.

Here are some things you can do to help make it a successful experience:

  • Start with a story. It should be relevant, interesting and not too long. A few minutes that grabs their emotions and tells their brain, hey, this is interesting so pay attention.
  • Interact with the audience. Very few of us can talk for twenty minutes straight and keep the audience engaged. If you involve the audience, even if you just walk around and stand near people, it will tell their brain to keep alert because something is happening. If you can ask the audience to share their experience, admittedly a tricky thing to do, that can help as well.
  • Plan something that uses the information you have shared. For example, you’ve given a 20 minute talk on making healthy snacks. Have the group make some healthy snacks at stations that have been set up ahead of time. It doesn’t need to be, and in fact shouldn’t be, anything complicated. It should be fun and something they can do in teams. That way, they are learning and sharing their experience, which also helps to move the experience into their long term memory.
  • Find a comfortable location. If people are too cold, too hot or find their seats uncomfortable, it will be hard for you to keep their attention. They should also be able to hear you well and seeing you is important as well so that you can connect. If it’s a big room, have a portable microphone and walk around engaging the audience. Check out the location for comfort in advance if at all possible. Lighting should be good as well.
  • Visuals should be easy to see and limited. Don’t try and put everything on your PowerPoint. Otherwise, people will be busy trying to read the slides and not hearing you. Use images as often as possible. They will grab people’s attention far more successfully than a lot of hard to read words.
  • Let people do what they need to do. I know some people like to knit or doodle during a talk. I also know that it can be hard for the person giving the talk to see as it feels disrespectful and shows a lack of interest. Not true! Some people, myself included, do not sit still well. Statistics also show that knitting or doodling or any other rote memory skill actually helps the brain pay attention and learning is enhanced by these activities. Some people just need to stand up and stretch. If you have the seating set up so people can easily move in and out with minimum discomfort to others that is ideal. Let people know that you welcome knitting/doodling, etc. prior to the talk, so they don’t feel uncomfortable. I promise, you will be glad that you did.

I hope these tips help you with your teaching and presentations. Let me know what you think and if you have an experience you’d like to share.



One thought on “Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

  1. Hello Faye. I couldn’t agree with you more. All points well taken. I once had the assignment of updating hundreds of fellow employees on a number of corporate procedures (Safety, Hazardous waste disposal etc.) and knew I would have a difficult time maintaining attention. I had 4 different groups over 3 separate shifts; one hundred or so in each group. I had a stand-up flashlight at my podium. I told my audience that if I saw anyone sleeping that I would turn on the flashlight. That was the “someone sleeping” signal, and asked my audience to wake them for me. There were a few sleepers, and when my light went on (I never missed a beat during my presentation mind you) everyone looked around to be the one to wake their colleague. I could clearly hear some chair kicking. Everyone paid at least “some” attention during my boring 30 minute presentation.


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